Harbor offers a cozy retreat


Houseboat: One resident likens living on the water to camping - but with indoor plumbing, electricity and cable TV.

October 19, 2003|By Marie Gullard | Marie Gullard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Kim Bognanni enjoys a charmed and cozy existence on the water in Baltimore's Canton neighborhood.

Aboard her houseboat, a 40-foot 1969 Drifter Cruiser, she relishes the evenings when the boat rocks her gently to sleep. Bognanni, 44, a management consultant for Spike & Charlie Enterprises, is a resident of the Anchorage Marina off Boston Street.

"I call this my floating trailer," says Bognanni, sipping her morning coffee at a tiny booth-like table.

The boat's entrance - sliding glass doors at the stern of the main deck - faces west. The compact interior is 11 feet wide, 38 feet long and relatively open. A comfortable sofa covered with a white fleece throw sits against the port side, placed in perfect viewing range of a color TV on the starboard side.

Beyond the sitting room is a tiny galley that is outfitted with a full-size refrigerator, sink, stove and oven. Cooking utensils, supplies and dry foods are placed in overhead wood cabinets and secured with rails or roping. Opposite the kitchenette, a 4-foot-by-4-foot bathroom is equipped with a small sink, commode and shower. These three areas make up half of the inside space.

Toward the bow of the boat is Bognanni's work area, which includes a desk and chair, shelves for books and papers, and one of three phones. A dining table sits opposite that area. An elevated portion of the bow contains a king-size bed, a small table and another television.

"I love living on the water," Bognanni says. "Who would think that you could live in a big urban area, be smack dab in the middle of the action and yet have such solitude."

The solitude she refers to is basically the marina's location.

The Anchorage Marina is situated on the Northwest Harbor of the Patapsco River. While it provides a view of downtown's tall buildings, it is free of the Inner Harbor bustle.

The Anchorage features a floating dock system that rises and falls with the water line. Long center piers, labeled A through I, serve as a front street or back alley. Each pier is equipped with utilities, such as metered electric service, water, cable television, phone lines and pump-out service.

Bognanni lived on the boat with a friend until he moved out a few years ago, leaving the vessel to her as a gift. She estimates its original cost at $15,000. She pays $536 a month for a slip rental, storage and utilities. She named the boat "Nauti Girl."

While the nautical lifestyle agrees with her, Bognanni acknowledges that it's not for everyone. She refers to boat life as "glorified camping" and notes that one must be prepared to make sacrifices.

For starters, there's the space issue. Bognanni barely has room for her clothes in a closet that is slightly more than a foot wide.

"The toilet flushes," she says, "but we must dispose of our waste at the pumping station. We have to fill our own tanks if we want running water. ... And when the harbor freezes, our heat supply is cut off, since there is no water to pump through the system."

Winters can be difficult, Bognanni says. There is no insulation in the boat's seven large windows. During the late fall, she secures the glass with plastic wrap to help protect it from the wind. (She owns a few electric heaters for emergencies.) Just before Tropical Storm Isabel last month, Bognanni decided to leave the boat and stay with a friend on land. Her boat was not damaged.

Still, the "livin' is easy" as far as Bognanni is concerned.

"Whenever I get into trouble, there's always someone around to help out," she says of the 50 or so people who live in the marina. "Like when my neighbor shoveled snow during the blizzard last year."

And there are marina amenities to enjoy: A large game room that includes an Internet hookup, wide-screen television and pool table looks out on the water. Nearby are baths, a laundry room and an outdoor pool and patio where potluck suppers are common.

Bognanni calls to her neighbor in the next slip, Dicky Gamerman, who lives in retirement on his 38-foot ketch. She offers him muffins; he gives her a big bowl of matzo ball soup.

Gamerman said he would never own a house, noting that things are simpler on the water, as long as you "throw stuff away."

But both acknowledge that boat owners must address home maintenance projects as frequently as their counterparts on land. After a recent wind gust, for example, Bognanni's boat lost the canvas tarp covering the upper deck. And the deck, with rotted boards, needs about $5,000 worth of renovations.

But those issues hardly dampen Bognanni's love for the lifestyle she has chosen. She said life on the water is so relaxing that she can't really imagine "terra firma."

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